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Wreck found: Captain Cook used the Endeavour to map the east coast of Australia. [Replica ship]

Wreck found: Captain Cook used the Endeavour to map the east coast of Australia. [Replica ship] (Reuters)

Shipwreck may be Cook's Endeavour

Captain James Cook's Endeavour, the 18th Century ship he sailed on his epic voyage to Australia, may be one of the four shipwrecks found off the coast of the US.

The ship is among four from a British fleet used during the US Revolutionary War found off Rhode Island.

Researchers with the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project say they believe the ships, and two others previously discovered, are part of a 13-vessel transport fleet.

The fleet was intentionally sunk by the British in Newport Harbor in 1778 to keep French ships from landing to aid the Americans' drive for independence.

The archaeologists say one of the 13 ships in the sunken British fleet was the Lord Sandwich, which records show was once the Endeavour.

Captain Cook used the Endeavour to sail the Pacific Ocean, map New Zealand and survey the eastern coast of Australia in 1768-1771.

Archaeologists say it is unclear which ship could be the Endeavour.

Seven of the ships in the British fleet have not been found but the archaeologists say the latest find raises the chances that one of the discovered ships is the Endeavour.

"There is a 47 per cent chance that we have our hands on the Endeavour," DK Abbass, executive director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, said.

She adds it is unlikely anything on the ships would provide a direct link to Captain Cook.

"Quite frankly, we could be working on her right now and never be able to prove it," Ms Abbass said.

Ms Abbass says it may take years to fully investigate the shipwrecks found so far.

Relics found

Using historical materials and sonar, the archaeologists discovered the ships in Narragansett Bay, about about a kilometre off Newport.

They also found at least one cannon, an anchor with a five-metre shank and a cream-coloured fragment of an 18th century British ceramic teapot.

Historically, the finding is significant because it helps tell the story of the siege of Newport, marking France's first attempt to aid the American insurrection against the British.

Though the effort failed, leaders from each side - George Washington representing the Americans and Comte de Rochambeau for America's French allies - met in Newport two years later, to formalise their cooperation for subsequent battles.

The French ultimately helped the Americans entrap British forces on a peninsula at Yorktown, Virginia.

"So, what you have here is the British are geared up for the colonial rebellion and now they're looking at an international conflict," Rod Mather, an associate professor of maritime history and underwater archaeology at the University of Rhode Island, said.

Ms Abbass says the shipwrecks are Rhode Island property.

There are no plans to raise them.

Officials estimate more than two dozen ships from the Revolutionary War period lie beneath Rhode Island's waters.

They include British Royal Navy frigates, vessels from the Continental Navy and a French ship.

- Reuters




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